Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Last Hurrah for Dix BBQ and Brew Pub? - CAMRA YVR's Spring Expedition

The last cask standing?
CAMRA YVR partakes in the
end of an era 
The final chapter for the much-love and dearly-missed Dix BBQ and Brew Pub may finally have been written when CAMRA Vancouver's Spring Expedition tour bus rolled into Whistler Village this past Saturday afternoon.
Dix, which served its last beer on premises, May 24, 2010, became a mecca for craft beer lovers here in Vancouver and its closing left a huge hole this city's craft beer community. Brewers Tony Dewalt and Derrick Franche became brewing legends in Vancouver as a result of their delicious and innovative brews, which were served at ridiculously cheap prices, another facet of Dix that is sorely missed in this city.  Dix was instrumental in kick-starting the cask beer movement in this city developing what I believe was the first cask night, held each Thursday and by holding their now-legendary Caskiville events which have been the inspiration for recent cask-dominated festivals held by CAMRA. Franche, the head brewer at Dix when the Mark James Group closed it down, is now brewing at The Whistler Brewhouse and as a tribute to his formerly loyal clientele at Dix and to CAMRA for supporting and promoting the art of brewing craft beer, invited CAMRA members to come up to enjoy the last surviving cask of Dix IPA.
CAMRA members celebrating
finishing off the last DIX IPA
cask - preview to a Stanley Cup
victory for the Canucks?
I have been to about as many "last Dix IPA" cask events as The Eagles have had farewell tours, but Franche assured me this is it for Dix IPA casks. I truly hope that Nigel or Anthony have something squirreled away in the keg rooms of The Alibi Room and St Augustine's because this cask was superb! Anyone who tells you that IPA cannot be aged really should rethink this as Franche's IPA definitely stood the test of time. It may not be has hoppy as it once was, but the balance and smoothness kept me going back to the cask until it was drained, even though there were several other tasty offerings available. The cask was paraded around the upper floor of The Whistler Brewhouse, like the Stanley Cup (don't get used to that sight Canuck's fans, my Red Wings still stand between you and Stanley Cup glory!!) after being consumed in a little over 90 minutes by the 40 or so well-lubricated and appreciative CAMRA members who made the trip. Franche was also celebrated by his many friends and fans who used to frequent Dix on a regular basis. It really was a great atmosphere and fun to watch many rehash and recapture what was once a vibrant craft beer scene at Dix. I was a small part of it early, back when Dewalt was head brewer, in the early days of the cask events, and I can recall many a great evening bellied up to the bar at Dix, munching on peanuts passing the time BSing with the cast of characters that made Dix their local watering hole. I have never really understood why The Mark James Groups shut it down, but I am looking at it from a beer-lovers point of view and not a financial one.
Beers aplenty were shared among the CAMRA
Spring Expedition revellers
Although, for many on the trip, Whistler may have been the highlight, the whole day was non-stop fun for myself. The bus was a-rocking shortly after taking off from St Augustine's, shortly before 1130 and I will take credit for cracking the first growler, filled with Storm's Black Plague Stout, before we hit the Iron Worker's Memorial (Second Narrows) Bridge. By the time we passed by the Lonsdale exit of the Upper Levels Highway, a bottle of 2009 Abyss, Yeti Imperial Stout and several others had been shared about. What I liked about the beers shared on the bus is that many brought along their home brew creations, including one mason jar of "apple brandy" which was a belly warmer, to say the least. For me, the time on the bus getting to and from the destinations is becoming my favourite parts of these beer tour day trips.
Howe Sound Brewery is worth the trip up to
Squamish all on its own.
 The bus was loud and our driver powered up to Squamish, despite the raucous crowd and a misbehaving bus, which had to be replaced when we reached the Howe Sound Brewery. Howe Sound has slowly worked its way into my heart and I consider many of their special and seasonal releases to be among the best beers in BC. I see Howe Sound as one of the breweries that is pushing the envelope in the local craft beer scene and have said to anyone who will listen that I believe this year's Pothole Filler will hold up against any imperial stout in a blind taste test, including Old Rasputin (I hear the gasps of disbelief, but it is something I will put to the test soon). I couldn't resist ordering a pint of the Megadestroyer and I was not disappointed. This latest batch had been "toned down" in the liquorice department, according to head brewer Franco Corno, and has mellowed with a few months of aging, but it was still a very formidable beer and I would not be honest if I said the trip from Squamish to Whistler was not a little fuzzy.
I am not sure how many really took in the amazing scenery on the way home as the bus worked its way down the Sea to Sky Highway. The views of the snow-capped mountains illuminated by the day's last rays of sunlight were spectacular. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos as I was incapable of focusing my eyes, never mind a camera, by that time of the day. And in an apparent defiance of nature, the energy on the bus actually seemed to increase on the way home, which is usually not the case on a ten-hour beer tour! I was clever enough to head straight home, avoiding an even heavier toll Sunday and the wrath of my wife but I did see several merry-makers heading off in the direction of the nightlife of Commercial Drive when we arrive back at St Augustine's.
Cudos to those who organized the trip as they must have felt they were herding cats at certain times of the day. It is a difficult task to keep 40something folks on the rails when their sole purpose of the day is to sample and consume beers, many of them of the very strong variety. I know as I, along with a few friends, have organized a few tours under the name BeerTourist and it is much harder than it seems. But in the end, all the smiling faces getting off the bus around 9 PM must have made all the hard work worth it for the CAMRA organizers. If you have never been on one of these bus tours, whether it be with CAMRA, BeerTourist or any other group, I highly recommend going. They are a lot of fun. Just remember to bring a few tasty brews to share on the bus,  get a good night's sleep the night before and eat a hearty beakfast before boarding the bus...and don't plan too much for the next day as you may find yourself moving a little more slowly than usual.
Also, please try to avoid foods that may result in backfiring of any kind, as one or more members of this trip did not. There were a few moments on the trip that nearly resulted in mass vomiting and it had nothing to do with the beers being consumed. Silent-but-deadlies are not fun in a confined space!!

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